Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Bulldogs Coach John Gruden Overcomes Flint Turmoil to Reach Memorial Cup

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Bulldogs Coach John Gruden Overcomes Flint Turmoil to Reach Memorial Cup

Article excerpt

Gruden overcomes Flint turmoil to reach Memorial Cup


REGINA - Nicholas Caamano's favourite memory of Hamilton Bulldogs coach John Gruden stems from their difficult days with the Flint Firebirds during the 2015-16 season.

The 19-year-old forward was traded from Flint earlier this season along with centre Ryan Moore -- reuniting him with Gruden and forward Will Bitten from their days with the Firebirds.

All four have now reached the Memorial Cup with the Bulldogs.

"I think just coming from where we came in Flint with all that happened there and then hoisting the OHL championship, I think that was huge," Caamano said Sunday.

Gruden and the Firebirds endured a challenging and unusual 2015-16 season, which was their first in Flint, Mich., after relocating from Plymouth, Mich.

Team owner Rolf Nilsen hired Gruden, but then fired him less than two months into the season amid reports the owner wanted more ice time for his son.

Players protested -- including Nilsen's son -- and Gruden was re-hired and given a three-year extension. Then he was fired again in February 2016.

The Ontario Hockey League intervened with the franchise after the second firing and took over direction of the team while suspending Nilsen for five years.

Gruden was hired by Hamilton in June 2016 and said his confidence didn't waiver despite that challenging season.

"I really truly believed that we were having some success," Gruden said of his time in Flint. "I really truly believe that it was going to work.

"Things happen for a reason and I'm just fortunate that Steve (Staios) gave me a second opportunity."

Staios, the Bulldogs' president and general manager, didn't have any hesitation when he hired Gruden as his new head coach.

He said Gruden's ability to handle the situation in Flint gave him the lead on the job.

"I felt his character was tested and every one of those players loved playing for him," Staios said. …

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